Catecholestrogens are endogenous metabolites that have been shown to modulate granulosa, theca, and luteal cell function in some species. The present study was aimed at determining the possible role of these steroids on oocyte maturation. Cumulus-enclosed bovine oocytes were matured for 24 h, fertilized, and then cultured for 8 days. Whereas estradiol was without effect, addition of catecholestrogens (2-hydroxyestradiol, 4-hydroxyestradiol, and 2-methoxyestradiol [2-MOE2]) to the maturation medium did not affect the cleavage rate but was associated with a decrease in blastocyst production on Day 8. Although 2-MOE2 was also able to inhibit blastocyst formation when added during embryo culture, the effects were less pronounced than those seen when the steroid was added only during maturation. In agreement with the known ability of 2-MOE2 to bind tubulin at the colchicine site, marked alterations were observed in the spindle assembly of oocytes exposed to 2-MOE2 during maturation, which lead to gross chromosomal aberrations after fertilization and consequent developmental arrest at the morula stage. Moreover, that the blastocyst rate was not affected when meiosis was blocked with roscovitine during 2-MOE2 exposure is consistent with the idea that altered nuclear maturation is the cause of the low developmental competence. Because 2-MOE2 could be increased in follicular fluid in response to aryl hydrocarbon-receptor ligands, such as some environmental contaminants, our results show that abnormally high intraovarian levels of catecholestrogens could have a deleterious effect on oocyte maturation and early embryonic development arising from the alterations in the meiotic spindle.
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